Employee Volunteering: Are Companies Realizing the Potential

The Good News….may not be so good after all

Even though 60% of the businesses that responded to Deloitte’s survey reported that they offer skilled volunteering as an option for their employees, the actual number of employees who volunteer at this level is negligible. Based on our research and conversations with companies, it is very normal to find large global corporations with 60,000 plus employees running ‘skilled-based’ volunteering programs or ‘pro-bono’ programs with fewer than 1% of their employees volunteering at this level.

Many companies, including Deloitte, are much happier to report their episodic and general volunteering numbers. In 2010, a large number of Deloitte employees, 33,600 or 75% of their U.S. workforce, rolled up their sleeves on June 11th for a few hours of volunteering. Some of that volunteering obviously required some skill – most did not.

A few hours out of the office once a year to volunteer is good, it’s just not good enough.

It is impossible to effect attitudinal and behavioural changes in the workplace through this type of corporate volunteering. What’s more, the value to society is also negligible. In fact, many nonprofits would suggest that the cost to their organizations far outweighs any potential (let alone realized) benefits.

So while there is growing consensus among business leaders on the potential they have to impact society for good, little is being done to leverage their most accessible and powerful asset. It’s not that they don’t believe in the power of employee volunteering programs, “More than nine in 10 (91 percent) respondents agree their employees’ business skills would be valuable to a nonprofit.

So why the disconnect?

I want to suggest three reasons why employee volunteering struggles to evolve past the one day (week) events and limited numbers in skilled-volunteering programs.

  1. We treat our employees who volunteer as one-dimensional. That’s wrong. A good volunteering program must be three dimensional.
  2. We measure the wrong things. Well, that’s not entirely true. We just aren’t measuring the most important things. Companies tend to focus on promoting the ‘outputs’ of their programs. They should be focusing on the outcomes and long term impacts of their employee volunteer programs. Why? Until companies like Deloitte start to measure the actual impact of 33,600 their employees out working in the community for a day, they won’t understand the real value of their activity.
  3. Finally, and maybe most importantly, most companies do not collaborate with their influential employees to create impactful programs. Worse, many companies (with a fixation on those ‘output’ numbers) end up ‘stealing’ the social capital of their employees. Or at least that’s how the employees perceive it. A common response by employees in this scenario is ‘hey, I volunteer on my own time -it’s my own thing and has nothing to do with my employer’.  Companies have to collaborate with the ‘influentials’ to capture the massive social capital they represent and then work to convert the employees who don’t volunteer (2 out of 3) and probably don’t see the value of volunteering.

If you’d like to learn more about how to do this, we’d love to talk to you. You can reach us here: